Do you like explosions? That’s pretty much the only relevant question when considering Mercenaries 2 as a candidate for your gaming time. Because if you do like explosions, you are really in luck. Big explosions, little explosions, multiple explosions, explosions that taste just like chicken…okay, maybe not that last one but the point remains, Mercs 2 is a game that’s all about blowing stuff up in spectacular fashion. If only the game built around those explosions was a little more interesting, but hey, nobody’s perfect.
In the original Mercenaries, you were a soldier of fortune exploding your way across Korea for fun and profit. In Mercenaries 2, it’s pretty much the same plan, except substituting Venezuela for Korea and adding revenge to the other motivations. You still play one of the same three mercs, and you’re still free to run around blowing the hell out of pretty much anything you want. Blow up someone or something belonging to a particular faction—the oil company, the rebels, the pirates, the Chinese, or the Allied Forces—and they’re liable to get kinda cranky. Do them a couple favors or detonate a few of their enemies and they might sell you something nice. Like a tank. Or an artillery rocket barrage. Sexy.
And honestly the game never really gets more complicated than that. There are a handful of “story” missions that open up the different factions and let you go after the main bad guys, but other than that it’s all side-missions and targets of opportunity. Don’t get the wrong idea, there’s plenty of stuff to do, if by that you mean buildings to destroy and generic dudes with miscellaneous guns to kill, but this just isn’t a deep gameplay extravaganza. And that’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with mindless violence, at least not in a video game. Just don’t expect much more from Mercs 2, ‘cause it ain’t there.
One major upgrade to the original, other than better looking explosions, is the ability to play co-op with a second player. The bad news is the two of you must stay within the same general area, which can be a little annoying, particularly in missions that require moving a significant distance. If someone gets left behind and can’t get a fast vehicle quickly to catch up it puts a real kibosh on the festivities. The good news is that two people exploding the world is almost exactly twice as much fun as one, and in a game that’s pretty much defined by its ridiculous and over the top shenanigans it really hits the spot.
One would be remiss if one didn’t mention some of Mercs 2’s little hiccups. For one thing, this is not a glitch-free experience. Play for any significant period of time and you’re likely to see something weird. Usually it isn’t game-breaking, but sometimes it is, and it’s annoying. There’s also the matter of two game mechanics that can be major killjoys. The first is the new vehicle hijacking mini-games that require you to play the now tremendously overused button matching game ever time you need to borrow a ride. Some of these mini-games are way to hard, with way too short a window for each button press, and overall they just take way too long. The animations are great, but getting punted off a helicopter because it took you more than half a second to press X isn’t in the spirit of this game, and neither is having the vehicle you hijacked explode instantly because it crashed into something while you were matching buttons.
Second on the really-not-helping list is the way enemies constantly try to call for reinforcements, particular when fighting the Allies or the Chinese. A timer pops up and you’ll have a few seconds to find the jerk with the little icon over his head and kill him before he calls in more enemies and your faction rating goes down. Used more sparingly it probably would have been fine, but the frequency at which it occurs, particularly toward the end of the game, is just maddening. There’s no strategy to it other than kill everyone faster, which is probably what you were trying to do anyway, and it just amounts to one more irritation in a game that’s more geared towards stupid fun.
All considered though, Mercenaries 2 isn’t a complicated game to assess. It’s a stupid action game in a long and storied tradition of stupid action games. The enemies are dumb as dirt and there are lots of tools at your disposal for causing wide-scale devastation. It looks great and it’s good clean violent fun. That you can melt the world down to beaded glass along side a buddy is even better. The only thing holding Mercs 2 back from being more than that is, well, everything. In fact it doesn’t really seem like it wants to be more than that. And hey, that’s cool. Consider that your official rent-before-you-buy advisory. Otherwise, happy exploding.